Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Cannes 2007: Wong Kar-wai’s Blueberry starter

Chinese director Wong Kar-wai had a dream. He always wanted to make an English language film, and grew up watching American cinema. He loves Memphis, whose summer is quite like that in his native Hong Kong, where he moved from Shanghai’s when he was just five. It is not quite surprising that he loves “A Streetcar Named Desire” and all that is Tennessee Williams. And had he been born earlier, he might have just cast Marlon Brando in the role of Jeremy, the guy who runs a small café in New York in Wong’s latest movie, “A Blueberry Nights”, which set the 60th Cannes Film Festival rolling on May 16 2007.

"My Blueberry Nights": Jude Law and Norah Jones
Call it a road show or a film that literally translates the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” into a visually captivating string of frames, “A Blueberry Nights” is, apart from being in the Festival’s top Competition, the first ever work of a Chinese director to open Cannes.

I am not surprised by this given the Festival President, Gilles Jacob’s fondness for Wong. Years ago, he told me during an informal chat “watch out for this helmer…Wong will go places”. Wong has. Last year, he chaired the Cannes jury. This year, his movie leads the Competition line-up.

“A Blueberry Nights” has other firsts to its credit. It is Wong’s first film set in America. “After spending five years on ‘2046’, I felt like doing something entirely different. I wanted to see how I would cope in a new environment. It was also an excuse for me to see America”, he said during the Press conference at Cannes on May 16.

What is more, singer Norah Jones (whose father is Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar) debuts as an actress in “A Blueberry Nights”. As the film’s protagonist, she travels across America (Memphis, Nevada, etc) on a voyage of self-discovery, trying to get over the man whom she thought she could never live without. On the way, she befriends a variety of people, including a cop, who gets sozzled every night, and a gambler woman, who is willing to put her life under a dice.

But before Norah embarks on her crazy road run, she meets Jeremy (played by Jude Law) and takes a fancy for his cafe’s blueberry pie that she has every night (the movie adapts its title from this).

Wong – whose repertoire includes “Happy Together”, “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express” – captures the magic of mood and movement through a series of fascinating sequences. The train that flashes by as Norah (Elizabeth in the picture) sits savouring the pie and Jude’s company. The plains of Nevada come alive with Norah’s exuberance as she drives along in a car she buys from the money she saves up working as a waiter, and along the way she keeps changing her name as quickly as she travels from one city to another. What, though, remains constant is her love for Jeremy, and she keeps mailing him postcards without giving away her address.

Wong’s flair for visuals and colourful characters grip one, and “A Blueberry Nights” is by far his most powerful work till date, though there were some moments when I felt that the movie let go my attention.

However, “A Blueberry Nights” has that element of rhapsody and rumination that highlight time, more specifically lost time. Throughout, Wong keeps reminding us of the number of days Elizabeth had been away from New York and her blueberry boy.

(Webposted May 16 2007)